Dayo Emmanuel writes on activities outside the United States embassy during a visit.
I have always heard a lot about the United States embassy in Lagos but never been there. I was therefore very willing when my boss, Mr. Lekan Otufodunrin, Editor of the Sunday title of The Nation Newspaper requested that I should accompany him to keep a visa date appointment recently. To beat the torturous Lagos morning traffic jam, we set out early for the 12 O’clock appointment, but we arrived rather too early, about 9.30am and was told we have to wait till 11.30am to be attended to.
Still wondering why we were charged N300 for a parking space, a young man appeared from nowhere, asking what we came for. “Oga, which of the embassies are you going?” he enquired.
After telling him it was the US embassy, he immediately reeled out the requirements for visa. He was one of the many touts in the car park offering all kinds of assistance to interested visa applicants.
We tried to ignore him, but he caught our attention when he noted that my boss had the wrong kind of picture for the US application.
“Sir, US Embassy does not take this size of passport photograph; this is a German size photograph”. “Then what do we do? we enquired. “We can get you the normal size in two minutes for a fee,” he answered.
True to his words, a camera man who must have been waiting for a signal from him moved closer and the passport photograph was taken. After payment, we parted with a token to “appreciate” and the guy prayed for our success.
At the waiting space by the embassy, those for earlier appointments were seen going in and out. While some wore sad looks, some complained while others could not hide their joy having been granted Visas.
An elderly man in company of his two sons lamented aloud how N400, 000 went down the drain. “Just like that, N400,000 gone!”, he expressed his frustration perhaps over his refusal or that of his son, nobody could tell.
Another elderly woman danced as her middle aged daughter embraced her.
At the unofficial waiting area a sitting space goes for N100. Why would they charge for sitting? Where does the money go to? I asked.
A young man who apparently has been a regular visitor at the Embassy provided some insight. “Don’t mind the greedy people, before now, we used to sit here for free and encourage ourselves and rehearse before going for appointments. A woman also used to sell drinks and snacks but now that is no more as they have commercialized the place.”
He added that the operators must be working with local government officials to share the fees collected.
While waiting for my boss, a young man rushed out of the embassy. We thought he had just been given a two-year multiple entry visa and was racing to celebrate with his friends. We were wrong. He was asked to produce a document which he came with initially but couldn’t find during the interview.
“Please I forgot a document while I waited here”, he told some people sitting in the unofficial waiting area. He was advised to search the pile of chairs but he was too confused to even do that as he rushed back into the embassy again looking very confused.
An elderly man sitting nearby in sympathy with the boy cursed his bad luck. “ko de nidaa f’eshu” meaning “and it shall not be well with the devil” as he wondered why someone could be so unfortunate to lose a vital document after all the preparations for the interview.
Not sure how their interview will turn out, many of the waiting applicants looked pensive. Soon, a middle aged man stood up and started addressing them. After listening to him, his identity was revealed. He was a Pastor who came to preach and pray for the success of the applicants. “I pray for your success and know that God’s will shall be done,”he prayed.
During his brief exhortation, which the ‘congregation’ seemed not interested in, he spoke on some salient points and virtue which a lot of Nigerians going for visa application often neglect. “You must be truthful when you get in there, he counselled.
The preacher continued: “some of you tell lies to the white people that you want to go and inspect your business over there when you know you are lying. You must say the truth and let the devil be a liar,” he said. Surprisingly, the applicants who looked not interested in the message chorused a loud “amen!” after each prayer of the preacher.
Still wondering at the sudden rapt attention of people who seemed not interested initially, it was offering time! Without any assistance, the preacher took the offering and disappeared, having delivered his ‘God-sent’ message.
Still at the waiting area, some young men waited eagerly to celebrate with successful applicants who sometimes couldn’t hide their joy. “Sir, we thank God for your success, let’s celebrate with you too.”
My boss eventually came back with the good news of being granted the visa for his trip. As we drove out of the car park which was buzzing with all kinds of visa related activities I couldn’t but marvel at the hassles involved in getting the almighty United States visa.
• First published 10/02/2012
• By: Dayo Emmanuel